A Perfect Cup of Tea
For millennia, people have been brewing the leaves, fruits, flowers and roots of many plants for sustenance, enjoyment and healing - such as hibiscus and chamomile from the Nile Valley, mate and pao d'arco from South America, vine tea and liquorice from China, as well as plants closer to home such as nettle and elderflower.
Black, green and white teas all come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. There are in fact more types of tea besides these most famous ones, including yellow, oolong, and pu’er. The difference is down to the way they are picked and prepared after harvest. All contain caffeine to some degree. Fruit teas are generally black tea with fruit flavour added, while herbal teas (also known as tisanes or infusions) come from a different plant altogether.
Black TeaWhen tea is kept at just the right temperature and humidity, and given the occasional shake, it oxidises. This breaks down the green chlorophyll and releases tannins, giving black teas their rich brown colour and strong taste. The taste of black tea varies according to how they are heated, the quality of the soil, and the time of harvest. Temperature Remove the kettle from the heat just as the water begins to boil. Rinse out the teapot using boiling water to warm the pot. Add a generous teaspoon (3g) per person to the teapot. Add the water - about 250cc per teaspoonful. It is best to use a tea pot and strainer rather than a rounded tea ball strainer. High quality teas need room to expand and unfurl to release their flavour. ...And then brew! If you prefer a cup weaker or stronger, simply add more or less tea. We recommend 5 minutes for black teas, though some varieties are better with less. Steeping tea for too long will release too much of the tannins leaving a bitter taste and dry, astringent sensation in your mouth. Some people like to add milk to black tea as it offsets the bitterness of the tannin. Almond milk is a good non-dairy alternative. Add the milk after you've poured out the tea, as this allows you to judge how much milk you need according to the colour of the tea (thank you George Orwell for that insight!) Enjoy your tea! Most black teas are good for a second brewing, though rarely for a third. If you'd like another brew, be sure to leave the leaves uncovered in between infusions.
Pu’erThe darkest of Teas! They originate in the ancient trading post of Pu’er, in the mystic mountains of Yunnan. Large-leaf mountain tea is dried and rolled before being oxidized by being steamed, then (usually) pressed into cakes. Many of them have a very strong, full, earthy taste - not for the faint-hearted! Use a small clay pot if you have one, as they are good at keeping the tea hot. Use a good teaspoonful of leaves, about 3g. Add some boiling water, and immediately pour the tea away. This washes the leaves, though some prefer to think of it as an offering to the tea gods. Then add about 150cc of water just under the boil (95 degrees or so). For good measure, put the lid on and then pour some hot water over the pot, to get it to maximum temperature. Brewing times vary according to each pu'er. The stronger varieties just need a minute or less. Others are good for 2-3 minutes. Try it and see. You can get multiple brewings from pu'er teas, but do leave the leaves uncovered between infusions.
Oolong and Pouchong
Oolongs are made from teas that have been withered in the sun and partially oxidized before being curled and twisted. The amount of oxidation varies from about 20- 80%, so they occupy the spectrum between green and black teas. Oolongs are sometimes called ‘blue-green’ teas, though their colour varies from brown to green-yellow. They typically have an earthy aroma and nutty taste. Pouchongs are sometimes considered a light oolong. They are usually not roasted and have a floral taste. Use a small clay pot if you have one, as they are good at keeping the tea hot. Use a good teaspoonful of leaves, about 3g. Add some boiling water, and immediately pour the tea away. This washes the leaves, though some prefer to think of it as an offering to the tea gods. Then add about 150cc of water just under the boil (95 degrees or so). For good measure, put the lid on and then pour some hot water over the pot, to get it to maximum temperature. Brew for 45 seconds to a minute, depending on how strong you like it. You can get multiple brewings from oolongs and pouchongs, but don't forget to leave the leaves uncovered between infusions.
Green, Yellow and White Teas
Green teas are dried and fired but do not undergo oxidation. This maintains the natural green chlorophyll and gives a vegetal flowery and slightly sweet taste. They are high in antioxidants and contain some vitamin C.
Japanese Green Tea
In Japan, green tea is prepared by steaming the leaves, drying them and rolling them. Sencha (roasted tea) is Japan’s favourite tea. It is made from the uppermost leaves and buds of the bush, which are steamed, kneaded, dried, sifted and then roasted. It is noted for its mildness, delicate sweetness and flowery aroma.
Chinese Green Tea
Chinese Green Teas are usually prepared not by steaming, but traditionally by frying the leaves in a wok.
Yellow teas have the same health benefits as green tea but have a subtler and sweeter taste, without the grassy aftertaste. The leaves are allowed to sit while damp, producing a very mild oxidation. This is just enough to break down the green chlorophyll in the leaves, hence their naturally pale yellow colouring. They originate from Anhui and Hunan Provinces and other areas of southern China.
White Teas are traditionally served to honoured guests. They are sun-dried or gently steamed, but not fired or fermented. The enzymes in the leaf therefore tend to stay alive for longer, and naturally oxidize. Pale and delicate, they are the least processed of teas.
It's very important not to add overhot water to green, yellow and white teas as this will produce a bitter taste. Water needs to be at about 75-80 degrees. You can achieve this temperature by boiling water in a kettle, pouring it into an open container and allowing it to cool for a minute or two. Put a teaspoonful of tea into the pot - about 3g (this may be more than a teaspoonful in the case of large leafed teas). Add about 150cc hot water. Allow to brew for about 2-3 minutes. Most green, white and yellow teas will happily yield multiple infusions. Be sure not to leave the leaves stewing between brewings.